An Exclusive Interview with Fiona Barton on The Child

An Exclusive Interview with Fiona Barton on The Child

Now her new book The Child continues Kate’s story as she investigates another grisly case. When the skeleton of a baby is discovered on a building site in London, Kate isn’t the only one whose interest is piqued by the news. For one woman, Emma, it reveals the dangerous possibility that her darkest secret is about to be exposed and for another, Angela, it reminds her of the traumatising moment her baby was kidnapped from the maternity ward 28 years ago. As long hidden secrets are unearthed, these women are forced to confront the truth, whether they want to or not.

Fiona Barton hadn’t considered having a journalist narrator when she wrote The Widow. The first voice that appeared belonged to Jean Taylor but Fiona told us how “gradually Kate Waters made her presence felt, doorstepping me, demanding extra chapters from her perspective” and we’re very happy she did. Fiona knows only too well that reporters “are often seen in the same popularity bracket as traffic wardens” but the fascinating reaction to Kate was what made her decide to stick with her as the lead for The Child. Indeed Kate’s reception was mixed; “some saw her as manipulative, some as being manipulated by other characters, and others thought she was a feisty investigator determined to find the truth. Everyone had a different opinion but it started a conversation about the reality of a reporter’s life.”

The introduction of a female journalist as an investigator is an interesting twist on the crime novel and Fiona notes how it has given her “greater freedom to pursue leads and more opportunities to explore ethical dilemmas. Reporters are not bound by the same procedural rules as police but can knock on the same doors and ask the same questions. They are neutral figures in an investigation, observing, probing, testing but not always judging. And because of this, people are often more willing to talk to them.”

The nature of news has changed drastically in the digital world. Although Fiona isn’t bitter about online content like Kate is, she does recognise the downfalls of it compared to traditional journalism and holds it responsible for the birth of Fake News; “the boast that everyone is a journalist because they are on social media has turned out to be a hollow one. They are not journalists. Journalism is gathering facts, checking the truth of statements, analyzing information and telling the story. The millions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al are sometimes reporting facts but more often, they are giving their opinion. Not the same.”

This is a topic which Fiona feels strongly about and one which she decided to address head-on with Kate because “it is an issue that affects many journalists of her – and my – vintage. In The Child, she is paired up with a new, young online reporter and finds her ideas of accuracy and news values under threat. Her complaint that news websites rely on ‘Hate a celebrity, dressed up as news’ is a heartfelt one…”

Much of The Widow and The Child’s success can be put down to Fiona’s journalistic way of thinking. The idea for The Child came from her skill for finding a good story. “As a journalist, I was always looking for the next story idea and used to tear interesting items out of newspapers and magazines – much to the horror of my hairdresser and doctor’s receptionist!…One of the scraps of paper lurking in the bottom of my handbag many years ago was about the discovery of a baby’s mummified remains. Like Kate, I wanted to know: who was the infant? Who had secretly buried it? What would drive you to do this? And who else knew? I suppose it was the desperation of the act and the human tragedy behind it that fascinated me.”

As a journalist Fiona is used to hearing all sides of the story, which is why she decided to tell The Child from the perspective of three women; “in The Child, I took it a step further, using a first person narrator and a lot of interior thought in my book to bring the reader right inside the heads of each character, hearing and seeing what they hear and see. And believing what they choose to believe. I love the layers of truth and doubt this can bring and I hope it allows the reader to live the story rather than watch from the sidelines.”

The Child is about women and in particular the relationship between mothers and daughters because it’s a subject close to Fiona’s heart. She was drawn to the emotions, responsibilities and pain of motherhood as they “are unique to each of us with children. Ask any woman and she will have her own story to tell.” In The Child she chose three very contrasting mothers; “Angela, who lost her daughter before they could form a relationship; Jude, who chose to send her daughter away; and Kate, the working mother, juggling ambition and family.” Fiona observes how “Jude was the most difficult to write because her traumatic years with her adolescent daughter, Emma, and her decision to throw her out, were quite alien to me. But, with Angela, I’d interviewed two or three women who had been forced to give up their babies for adoption at birth and I’ve never forgotten their accounts of the enduring pain of those partings. To be honest, I didn’t have to look too far to write about Kate’s guilt when a story threatens to take priority over her children. But you’ll have to ask my two if I got it right.”

One thing Fiona has most definitely got right is the crafting of a clever and irresistible crime novel. Not to mention a compelling journalist heroine who you’ll be glad to hear returns in her next book; “Kate is still there, elbowing herself to the front of the story, but who knows after that…”